How Long to Steep Cold Brew
WRITTEN BY: Equator Coffees
We crunched the numbers and the results are in: cold brew is our most popular drink on the hottest days of the year at Equator cafes. We know, we know—not exactly mind-blowing news. But together with the fact that the number one question on the Equator hotline (aka firstname.lastname@example.org) is "How long should I steep cold brew?", we thought it was high time to give you the know-how you need to enjoy the sumptuous, sweet, smooth taste of cold brew at home.
Lucky for you, we've been hard at work for years now on cracking the cold brew code. There's a lot that goes into it: grind size, steep time, equipment, how to drink it once it's done without getting the jitters.
We've been experimenting with our seasonal blend, Endless Summer, and it makes a cup of cold brew that's perfect for the dog days of summer. But before we dive into the nitty gritty, let's back up and review the basics.
What is cold brew?
Cold Brew coffee, by definition, is coffee made by steeping coffee grounds at room temperature or colder for an extended period. The results are different from what you would get by adding ice to a hot brewed coffee. The lack of heat prevents many of the solubles in the coffee from completely dissolving, resulting in a brew with much lower acidity, enhanced smoothness, more incredible sweetness, and generally little to no bitter component. Since you are brewing at room temperature, the longer brewing time and higher coffee to water ratio are necessary to give the water more time to extract those solubles from the coffee grounds.
Best equipment to brew cold brew?
Before you can start, you have to have the right tools for the job. Immersion brewers are our favorites for steeping cold brew, both for their simplicity and their cost-effectiveness compared to other cold brew makers on the market.
Toddy Cold Brew System
At all Equator cafes, we utilize the Toddy Cold Brew Immersion system (product link). In 1964, as a chemical engineering graduate of Cornell, Todd Simpson developed and patented a cold brew system that creates a great immersion cold brew.
The Toddy coffee maker extracts the coffee bean's delicious flavor and eliminates much of the acidity, producing a bold, super-smooth cup. Bonus for all the tea drinkers, you can also utilize the Toddy brewer to make tea—served hot or over ice.
The venerable French press. You can find them in nearly any coffee drinker's cabinet, and for good reason—it's one of the most versatile coffee makers around, including its ability to make cold brew.
Simple and easy to use, you can get your cold brew set up for extraction in just a few minutes. The built-in filter makes it easy to strain the grounds when extraction is over. Like the Toddy, it makes a smooth, bold cup of cold brew.
The only drawback to a French press is size. The most common sizes will only make two to four servings at a time. If you're as cold-brew obsessed as some of the folks around Equator HQ, that's just not going to cut it.
How long should you steep cold brew?
Now that we've covered the basics of steeping cold brew, let's get down to the question that's been percolating through your brain the entire time you've been reading: How short is too short and how long is too long?
The minimum amount of time to steep cold brew
After extensive testing, we recommend a minimum of 12 hours regardless of batch size, equipment, and temperature. If you're short on time you can leave your cold brew batch out at room temperature to expedite the process, but in less than 12 hours, you'll end up with an under-extracted batch as those pesky solubles haven't had sufficient time to soak with water and be extracted into the cold brew.
How to find the sweet spot
The best part about making cold brew at home is you can dial it in to your personal taste. Somewhere in the 16 to 20 hour range is the sweet spot for most coffees. We're willing to bet you'll find your favorite steep time right in there somewhere.
Start with a 16-hour batch, taste, and go from there. Not sweet and smooth enough? Steep it longer, such as 17 hours next time. And so on and so on until you've got it just right. Those obsessives we mentioned earlier? Yeah, they've got their recipes dialed in down to the minute.
If available, we encourage utilizing both filtered water and letting your batch steep in the fridge as the cooler temperature will cause the extraction process to slow down, not to mention your brew will be chilled to perfection.
The maximum time to steep cold brew
24 hours! Trust us, we left a few test batches in the R&D fridge for up to 36 hours, and across the board, the batches we brewed past 24 hours left a bitter and over-extracted taste. For a few of the longest batches, we even found a woody and dusty flavor profile.
Grind: Grind your coffee to a medium-coarseness, like thick kosher salt. If your grind is too fine, the coffee will over-extract, and you'll notice the extract will be cloudy.
Dilute: Your cold brew's final product should be considered a "concentrate". We recommend diluting with ice or water at a 1:1 ratio. Don't be afraid to experiment here, but keep in mind that you brewed a concentrate, and if you are drinking it straight, the coffee jitters may follow.
Experiment: While we love Endless Summer, there's no wrong coffee to be tried as a cold brew. If you are looking for an extra sweet cold brew, we recommend trying a natural processed coffee, you won't believe that there is no sugar!